Roots Rock Twang Report

by Rob Nichols
NUVO contributing writer (read all blog posts)
Shooter Jennings (Waylon’s hard-living, outlaw badass boy) released his new CD Tuesday, called “Black Ribbons” and recorded with his new band Hierophant. It is a concept record that had Shooter collaborating with writer Stephen King. King voiced multiple cuts on the 20-track release, featured as freewheeling a late-night DJ called Will O’ the Wisp.

I listened to the album. It ain’t today’s country music. Sounds like someone smoked a couple bowls, put on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, and said “Hey man, we could do that”. The album is a little weird – both jarring and interesting. And a bit self-indulgent and pompous. Possibly brilliant.

Made while he was without a record label or management, Jennings told the LA Times he “felt like I was at rock bottom. I was feeling pretty voiceless, and depressed.” So he did what all depressed rockers do: he drove cross-country in an RV with his family.

“We were in the middle of nowhere, and every night about midnight I’d hear these programs on the AM dial. It was all this really scary talk about the ballooning police state, the globalization agendas and whatnot.”

Could be the leader to win the Oddball Album of 2010. And that’s OK.
Listen Here – “The Illuminated” from Black Ribbons

Nearby Show Rob Recommends: Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun comes to the Lafayette Brewing Company in April 17th (it’s a Saturday night). The rockabilly guitarist from Ann Arbor, MI is best known as a member of the original Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. He’s also a crunchy Fender telecaster guitar player, and his music is tagged as “Dieselbilly”: part rockabilly, part truck-drivin’ music. He’s being brought to town by the terrific Friends of Bob live music co-op. An 8:00pm show, with doors at 7:00pm. Tickets on sale March 12th for $10, or $12 day of show. Kirchen released “Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods” in 2007; the title cut a greasy ode to Tele guitar slingers.

Gotta like that the new Johnny Cash release was #3 on the Billboard Album chart this week. “American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” sold 54,000 units. Sade (huh?) was the top album from last week (and for he third week in a row – what the hell is that about?) , selling 127,000 units of “Soldier of Love.” Country music’s Fleetwood Mac-ish Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” was second. Lady A sold 118,000 units, down 18 percent from the previous week. Overall CD sales CD sales were down 13 percent compared to the comparable sales week of 2009 with 5.99 million units sold.

One of those stories that we knew was probably already happening, and just couldn’t prove it: Four California men behind a ticket broker company have been charged with hacking into Ticketmaster’s website, buying up over 1.5 million tickets and re-selling them. As Wiseguy Tickets, they reportedly made $25 million between 2006 and 2009. The New York Daily News reports that for a Bruce Springsteen show at Giants Stadium in 2008, Wiseguy scooped up half of the floor tickets. They also hacked in to get concerts tickets for AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Hannah Montana, Coldplay and Phish. Among the companies they hit were Ticketmaster, Live Nation,, and Major League Baseball.

Roots Rock News: Alejandro Escovedo, Tim Grimm, Drive-By Truckers

Roots Rock and Twang News: All kinds of news ‘n’ notes. I must pass them along before something bad happens, like a new Winger album appears to punish my selfishness. So I share….

While the Grammy’s pounded away at honoring (mostly) commercial success over everything else, there were a few winners of note to us:
Steve Earle won the Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album for 2009’s “Townes.” Loudon Wainwright III (from “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” to this…) won for best traditional folk album with “High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project”. Best americana album went to Levon Helm, for “Electric Dirt.” and Springsteen won for best solo rock performance for “Working on a Dream”.

Alejandro Escovedo retreated to Mexico with long-time friend, co-writer and fellow artist Chuck Prophet, for the follow-up to his most recent studio album “Real Animal”. The new record is slated to be released in late June. Escovedo’s next album will come out on Fantasy Records, the former home Creedence Clearwater Revival, and again home to John Fogerty. Escovedo’s in Kentucky making the record with producer Tony Visconti, who also produced “Real Animal.” One of the best americana shows in the Indy area last year was Escovedo’s appearance at the Royal Theatre in Danville.

Eddie Vedder’s cool cover of “My City Of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen, recorded at the recent Kennedy Center Honors show in DC, is available as a charity digital single through iTunes. Proceeds benefit Artists for Peace and Justice Haiti Relief.

Barbara Higbie begins a run of six consecutive excellent female singer/songwriters as part of the Indy Acoustic Cafe series. She appears February 13 for a 7:30 show at the Wheeler Community Arts Theater (1035 Sanders St.). Catie Curtis is slated for Feburary 27. more info at

Tim Grimm (photo from KDHX Community Media)

Tim Grimm plays February 20 for the Indy Folk Series at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis (615 West 43rd Street). The Indiana singer/songwriter/actor/farmer is the mastermind behind the Hoosier Dylan, Hoosier Holiday and Hoosier Springsteen shows, and this is a nice chance to hear him play his own music. A great voice, filled with relaxed strength, and iy’s sneakily captivating.
more info at

Dixie Chicks and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison will record an album together without their Dixie Chick partner Natalie Maines. Maines father, legendary Texas pedal steel player Lloyd Maines reports that the split is “temporary.

Nielsen rolled out the 2009 year-end music sales and radio airplay, showing album sales were down 8.5 percent. Digital track sales went up 8.3 percent over 2008, and digital album sales up 16.1 percent. Vinyl also grew, with music fans buying 2.5 million vinyl LPs, a 33 percent jump over 2008. Still, music industry revenues in 2009 were $6.3 billion, less than half what they were in 1999, and people spent 32% less in 2009 on music than they spent in 2008.

In 1979, Doug Fieger played rhythm guitar in a band called the Knack and sang a song called “My Sharona” that stayed at No. 1 for six weeks. More recently he’s been a cancer patient, lung and brain and beyond.
Here’s the article

Though Charlie Daniels suffered a mild stroke while snowmobiling in Colorado on Jan. 15th, he says he plans on keepting upcoming shows, on Feb. 27th in Ft. Pierce, FL and Feb. 28th in Brooksville, FL. Daniels was released from Swedish Medical Center on Sunday, Jan. 17th and returned to his home in Colorado. I saw Daniels play a mighty fine pre-race Brickyard 400 show a couple years ago, in the infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He still had the energy (he’s 73), some damn good country-rock fiddle and guitar songs, and looked at home on the big stage.

The Drive-By Truckers have a new album set for release this March, and the first song has been released on Stereogum’s website. Patterson Hood told the website that “The Big To-Do” is “very much a rock album,” You can listen to “This Fucking Job” from the Drive-By Truckers at Stereogum. The new album is due March 16.

Rick Rubin produced the new Johnny Cash album “American VI: Ain’t No Grave”, and that record is out later this month, slated for February 23. The set includes one Cash original (“First Corinthians”) and a version of Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day”, among the tracks.

Merle Haggard has a new deal with independent label Vanguard Records (where Levon Helm is signed) – and will release “I Am What I Am” on April 20. He’s currently touring with Kris Kristofferson, whose latest album (“Closer to the Bone”) is magnificent – he has finally grown into that idiosyncratic voice of his, and the words and music match up to produce of the best albums from late last year.

Elvis Costello will tour the U.S. this spring in a variety of configurations. Costello will be playing solo on some shows, plus some with his band The Imposters, and others with The Sugarcanes, the musicians who joined him on his 2009 album “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane”. Costello will also perform solo with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the end of May.

Here’s one of those Texas festivals that sound like a whole lotta fun: The line-up for Cross Canadian Ragweed’s 4th Annual Red Dirt Roundup has been announced. The festival will be held on two stages at the Historic Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas on Sunday, Sept. 6. The bands include Ragweed, Charlie Robison, Robert Earl Keen, Johnny Cooper and The Wallflowers.

Willie Nelson will turn to T Bone Burnett, for Nelson’s new album called “Country Music”. It features old-time banjo master Riley Baugus, double bassist Dennis Crouch, and T Bone himself, all musicians featured on “Raising Sand” the 2009 Grammy award-winning Album of the Year by Plant and Krauss. The album will be released on April 13th. And in what has seemingly become an annual tradition, members of Willie Nelson’s band and crew were cited recently for misdemeanor possession offenses after of marijuana somehow came blowing out of the tour bus. Six members were busted in Duplin County, NC for possession of marijuana and three-fourths of a quart of moonshine.

If you don’t know anything else about my quirky ideas on music, understand that I think Cheap Trick, over the past 30 years, has somehow influenced every rock and roll band worth a shit. So I’ll end by passing along word that Cheap Trick will be performing dates with Squeeze during summer 2010 and taped a PBS Soundstage that will air some time in June or July 2010.

Here’s a bit of the Tricksters…

Youngest Cash Still Playing Shows, Keeping Johnny’s Music Alive

Tommy Cash is sitting in his car, on the phone, having just pulled into his Hendersonville, TN driveway. From Indianapolis, I ask if he wants to go inside before we talk. Cash, the youngest brother of Johnny Cash says, “no, this is good.”

Who am I to argue with a Cash?

Tommy has crafted a pretty decent country music career. Yeah, he’s Johnny kid brother, a fact nobody could run away from. (Hell, Johnny may be – sorry Hank, Sr. – the biggest country music icon ever). Not that Tommy has wanted to run from his name. Rather, he’s embraced his heritage without seeming cloying or overly opportunistic.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, he charted three top 10 singles – the biggest being 1969’s “Six White Horses”, chronicling the deaths of the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now 69 years old, Tommy Cash still hits the road, and was ready to head to Greenwood for a benefit show at Jonathan Byrd’s Ballroom in late October.

Tommy knows he’s not Johnny. He knows his career and influence will forever dwarf the “Man in Black”. But Tommy Cash seems at peace with his place in life.

He’s got a new album (“Fade to Black”, which is a pretty damn good late-career record) that features guitar playing and singing from Marty Stuart and a duet with George Jones. He plays lots of golf in the winter in Florida. He’s raised three successful kids. He’s healthy. And for a little more than three years, has been paying homage to his big brother with his “Johnny Cash Tribute Show”.

“People say ‘oh my goodness, it must be hard standing in Johnny’s shadow’. I don’t look at it that way. I let other people worry about it,” Cash says, as we talk about the obvious. “I am an individual and very active. I do a lot of different things. I know my brother was one of the biggest stars in the history of music. Period. People all over the world loved Johnny Cash and still do. And I realize it, and am very cognizant of that.”

“But I really don’t worry about it,” Cash says “I just go and do my show and do the best I can and am very proud of what I do.”

His biggest successes came from late 1969, through 1973, when the youngest Cash accumulated 12 Top 40 country hits, and built his career no differently than dozens of current country music stars who have mid-chart hits and then jump on a bus to earn their real money, playing gigs.

“I have been to Europe 40 times since 1965 and have a good fan base there. I draw good crowds over there; they love the traditional country music. A year or so ago we did a tour of Scandinavia and Ireland. That was a great tour.”

The upcoming trip to Indianapolis won’t be his first.

“In the mid 1960s, it seemed like I got booked around Indianapolis a lot. I used to play a bar called the Sherman Bar, and there were two or three other places up there I worked. I’ve always enjoyed coming to Indianapolis.

“Back in the 1970s and 80s, when I was having hit records, I toured 250 days a year,” Cash remembers. “Now that I’ve gotten older, I don’t want to do that many dates, and probably couldn’t get booked that many anyway. I work about 75-80 dates a year and that’s really all I want to do. I have been touring for 44 years,”

“And I am not tired of it,” he says. “But don’t want to be gone from home that much even if I could.”

For his show in Greenwood, he’ll bring his longtime backing band “The Cash Crew”, for his “Johnny Cash Tribute Show”.

“We’ve been doing the show for three or four years,” Cash says. “It’s some country songs, some Johnny Cash songs, and stories that only I know about Johnny that I tell between songs. People really appreciate this show. It is my way of showing my love and respect and to honor him and his music. I sing some of my own songs in the show, and we get as close to the Johnny Cash sound as we want; we don’t want to copy or imitate him, but it is close,” Cash says. “People tell me they close their eyes and they can hear him.

“But my voice is a little higher than his.”

Cash sounds sincere when he speaks of his piece of the Cash name. He digests questions, and takes a couple beats before answering. And he occasionally, at the end of a sentence, will pause and start talking again, adding to the story. You can feel him, through the phone, thinking.

We talk about his new album.

“I am very proud of “Fade to Black” – It is my 22nd album. I am proud of the way the album turned out. I asked Marty to do a song on this album, and said ‘You pick it’. He said ‘I have always loved ‘Six White Horses’ and I’d love to have you record that again, and let me play lead guitar and sing on it’. And it turned out really good. George came in and sang on the opening track “Some Kind of a Woman” and my son Mark Cash sang on two songs.”

And isn’t the Cash family country music royalty? – the everyman regime that represents country music roots through sincerity, and sauced with more than a little of tough luck and hard living. Part of that heritage is Tommy Cash.

“As long as I can stay healthy and do a good show, I will continue. When the time comes I can’t do my best on stage, I will quit and do whatever I need to do for the rest of my life,” he says. “Maybe play golf. Maybe see some of the places I have played and not seen. I have been to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of places. I had very little time for sightseeing, because you do the show, go to the hotel, sleep, get up and go to the next town. As I get older I have a yearning to see some of the great sites of the world.

“I have had a wonderful career, and I am very grateful for the success I have had,” Cash says before ending his driveway phone call and heading inside his house.

“It’s nothing compared to Johnny, but I have really enjoyed my life.”


Hear Tommy Cash – “Fade to Black” (2:00)

Hear Tommy Cash – “Best of” (2:00)

  • Tommy Cash bio/album info/video